Pathfinder Core Classes Overview – Roles and Ranks (Plus How They Fit Into a Group)

“Don’t you know you never split the party?

Clerics in the back keep those fighters hale and hearty

The wizard in the middle, where he can shed some light

And you never let that damn thief out of sight…”

Emerald Rose, Never Split the Party

When looking at the expansive list of possible character combinations for new characters in a Pathfinder game, it is very easy to get overwhelmed.

There are so many options that they could make a new player’s head spin. 

To make it easier on all of those newbies out there, we here at the Ashen Vault are going to break down the core classes for both Pathfinder 1E and 2E.

In this article, we are going to look at each of the core classes presented for both editions, what they do at the higher levels, what role they can fill in a party, and what kind of environment they are best in. 

Anatomy of a Class Entry

Below we will break down how we approach each class.

Class Name

Obviously the name of the Class and a general overview of what it is about.

What Can the Class Do?

This section is about what each class does and is known for as well as a sneak peek at what it can do at the higher levels.

What Role Does the Class Fill?

Pathfinder is as much a Tactical Game as it is an RPG. Frequently it is easy to understand a class by what role they have in a party: Tank, Damage, or Healer, though depending on the build, you could build these classes with multiple roles in mind.

Where Is This Class at Its Best?

Every class has its own environment in which it excels: Wilderness, Cityscapes, Dungeons, etc.

In this entry, we will look at where that class is at its best. That isn’t to say they can’t go other places, but if a campaign isn’t going to focus on that class’s best place (such as a Druid in a City-based campaign), you might want to pick another class.

Pathfinder 1st Edition

Pathfinder 1st Edition is more similar to Dungeons and Dragons than 2nd Edition. As such, much of what applies in DnD 3.0 and 3.5 also applies to Pathfinder 1E.

For our purposes, we are going to only look at the core classes here. If we looked at all the classes, we would be here all night!


The Soul of Fiery Fury and Unending Rage. Barbarians are warriors who throw themselves into combat while riding the high of their own anger.

Some characters manifest their Rage into a berserker fury while others only show a cold and unnerving fury.

What Can the Class Do?

The Barbarian’s biggest class feature is their Rage ability. A Barbarian Rage is powerful, giving the character a powerful bonus to their combat capabilities at a significant cost to them afterward. 

While a Barbarian Rages, they can hit harder and more often as well as shrug off a great deal of damage at the cost of not being able to use Intelligence, Charisma, or Dexterity-based skills. After the rage, a Barbarian is fatigued as well, meaning they are suddenly taking penalties where they had bonuses.

At higher levels though, the Rage feature gets more and more potent, and the penalties begin to fall off. The fatiguing effect ends, and their bonuses get even higher.

What Role Does the Class Fill?

A Barbarian is most commonly seen as a major Damage character. When they use their Rage, they can dish out a huge amount of damage very quickly, and at high levels, they put down whole crowds of baddies with a few mighty swings.

Their fast movement ability also helps them get into the thick of the fray quickly, though the Barbarian can also take up the role of a Tank.

As they level up, they gain Damage Reduction and Uncanny Dodge, meaning they can soak up or avoid incoming damage as well. Their Rage also gives them Temporary HP to absorb incoming attacks.

Overall, a Barbarian is best at Damage but can also be an off-Tank if one of the other party Tanks can’t hold an enemy’s attention.

Where Is This Class at Its Best?

Barbarians are some of the most versatile of the core classes when it comes to geography. They can excel everywhere — dungeons, wilderness, cities, deserts, forests, or anywhere really.

Despite their name, a Barbarian can be found just about anywhere. 


Bards are the quintessential party faces. Bards hunt for secrets and stories they can share with the world. They have powerful arcane magics to beguile their enemies and empower their allies.

What Can the Class Do?

Bards are great for making sure the party wins. You don’t play a Bard to be a front-line fighter; you play a Bard to make sure the front-line fighters stay alive.

The Bard’s starting ability is their Bardic Performance ability. This ability allows a Bard to do a number of things. At the lower levels, the Bard can inspire their allies during combat (or other activities) while distracting enemies and causing them to even fail at casting spells.

At higher levels, a Bard can use their Performance ability to even cause enemies to die from the sheer sublime power of their song.

Bards also have access to powerful arcane magic they can cast spontaneously without having to prep them first. This means they have a smaller amount of spells known, but they can cast them more than once a day.

What Role Does the Class Fill?

For Bards, the party role they excel at is the party face. They are typically best in a social situation where they can use their abilities to sway others in the party’s favor.

In combat, their role is most definitely the party buffer. They should be focused first on helping others hit harder or making opponents fail at doing any of their damage.

Where Is This Class at Its Best?

Bards work best in a social situation with NPCs, so in this instance, they would probably play best in cities or towns.

Mechanically though, they are much like Barbarians and can really play in any environment from dungeons to wilderness.


The Holy Priests for Pathfinder, the Clerics are the chosen clergy of the many gods of Pathfinder. They are adaptable to most situations but are most commonly seen as sources of power healing.

What Can the Class Do?

Clerics are full casters, meaning they focus mostly on their spells. All of their magic comes from divine sources, so every day they have to pray for their magic. During their prayer, they prepare whichever spells they think they will need, so a cleric will need to do preparation before they start adventuring.

Cleric Spells range from small orisons that can create a small amount of pure water or stabilize a dying creature to dropping pillars of flame on their enemies and bringing people back to life.

Clerics can also channel divine energy. Should they follow a Good deity, they can channel positive energy to heal living creatures and destroy undead, while Evil clerics channel negative energy, which does the opposite.

As a Cleric levels, they can channel more powerful energy and become a conduit for their deity’s wrath or mercy.

What Role Does the Class Fill?

Most often, the Cleric fulfills the role of Healer. They have a basic ability that is literally the ability to heal on command, so they are often relegated to that role 9/10 times.

However, Cleric Domains can allow more wiggle room in this as each Cleric gets two domains from their deity. These domains can give you unique powers that will change exactly what you can do, which can allow you to be a backup Tank, backup party face, or most commonly backup party Damage.

Where Is This Class at Its Best?

Like the Barbarian, the Cleric is very good almost anywhere. They can go anywhere and be a part of almost any society.


Stewards of the land and guardians of nature, Druids are powerful spellcasters who have a direct connection to the natural world.

What Can the Class Do?

Druids are incredibly powerful in their element. They have powerful nature spells that can heal and harm. At early levels, they can do small things like create pure water or detect poisons while at the top levels, they can summon tsunamis or turn fertile land into deserts.

Their most unique ability is their Wild Shape power, which allows a Druid to shape-change into a specific animal for a set period of time. Most Druids will take a familiar form as they level, but even as they grow in power, they can take on the shape of a more powerful and potent creature.

They can also get an animal companion. This companion is smarter and more potent than their average counterpoint, allowing them to share in some of the Druid’s magic and follow commands. This makes a Druid player a character who can potentially play two characters at once.

What Role Does the Class Fill?

Druids are all-rounders really. They have access to healing magic that is almost as potent as a Cleric, and their Wild Shaping ability can let them double up as a Tank or Damage character.

If you are playing a Druid for the first time, it is usually best to focus on one role and perhaps act as a backup in case there is an issue with another character not being able to perform.

Where Is This Class at Its Best?

This is where we run into a severe limitation for Druids. All that power and potency has a price. They do their best work in the open wilderness. Cities are almost anathema to most Druids, who require a source of nature to retreat to from time to time.

If your game is going to focus on urban environments, Druids may be mostly useless.


If there is any character class that is a true blank slate, it is the Fighter. The Fighter class can be truly anything you want it to be (within reason). They are physical characters who are at home the most on the battlefield.

What Can the Class Do?

Fighters are very easy to play and get into at the early levels. Their major ability is their adaptability. They gain more feats than any other class in the game, which means they have access to the most tricks and abilities focused on combat than most other classes.

As they level, Fighters will also gain access to Weapon Specializations. This allows your character to specialize in a specific weapon that becomes their signature. This weapon group gains increased damage and chance to hit as well as unlocking even more combat maneuvers. 

Finally, their Armor Training allows them to make the most out of the armor they wear, making the armor more protective and helping them stay on their feet longer.

What Role Does the Class Fill?

Fighters are typically best in the Tank role. They can take damage with the best of them and just keep on swinging. Their Armor Training allows them to make the most of their AC, making more enemies miss as they go up in level.

Fighters can also be damage-dealers as well, but as they level, they will see that damage start to fall off as characters like the Sorcerer get more and more powerful spells.

Where Is This Class at Its Best?

Fighters are literally everywhere. You cannot swing a broadsword in fantasy settings without hitting a Fighter. Fighters are at home anywhere in any environment.


Adepts who are focused on spiritual and physical perfection, Monks are devoted to the idea of combining soul and body to achieve perfection.

What Can the Class Do?

Monks are flurry fighters, characters who wade into battle with little to no armor and land a flurry of blows onto their enemies before they dance out of enemy reach.

At the early levels, they specialize in unarmed combat, taking the time to land multiple blows on foes. As they level, they gain more flurries, allowing them to attack more and more until they are making seven attacks with their one attack action.

Monks also gain a pool of Ki powers that allow them to do extra damage or subvert their enemies’ defenses so they can hit harder.

Their powers of physical perfection allow them to overcome mortal limitations, letting them ignore poisons, slow their falls, and even stop aging.

What Role Does the Class Fill?

Monks are a Damage-Dealing class. While they have some abilities to keep themselves alive, those abilities are more bent toward making sure they can get their flurry of blows in. 

Like the Fighter though, Monks will start seeing a drop off on their damage at the higher levels when powerful magic spells will start coming to bear.

Where Is This Class at Its Best?

Monks are good almost anywhere with very few restrictions on their abilities. They excel in dungeon combat, though, with their abilities to move in and out of combat letting them work well in confined spaces.


Holy warriors chosen by their deity or chosen for a specific cause, Paladins are separate from Clerics, and rather than priests, they are actually closer to Holy Knights or Crusaders for their faith.

What Can the Class Do?

Paladins are an interesting combination of the Fighter and the Cleric with a dash of Bard added in for flavor.

They are powerful warriors with strong weapons and armor, but they also have a limited form of spell casting like the Cleric.

For a certain number of times per day, a Paladin can call on their god’s power to empower a blow against an Evil foe. When they do this, they can add their charisma modifier to their damage and attack roll against their enemies. As the Paladin levels up, the number of times they can Smite Evil go up.

Lay on Hands is a Paladin healing ability. They can touch a friendly target and channel their deity’s power into them to heal them. As they get more powerful, more healing can be bestowed. In addition, as they level, the Paladin can remove negative effects like Fatigue or Sickness from their target.

Finally, Paladins also gain a potent aura that helps to buff their allies. This can range from protecting them from Fear to resisting mind control.

What Role Does the Class Fill?

Despite their powerful Smite Evil ability, Paladins work best as party Tanks. Full plate armor and auras of protection make them a pillar for the party to rally around.

Where Is This Class at Its Best?

Paladins are most at home in open areas where they can use their mounts. That isn’t to say they are bad in places like dungeons and city alleyways. In those locations, they can lock down avenues of approach and keep less-armored allies safe.


Rangers are to Druids as Paladins are to Clerics. They are warriors to campaign for the wilderness and are at their best in the hinterlands of civilization.

What Can the Class Do?

Rangers are a cross between a Fighter and a Druid with a penchant for using a specific combat style of their choosing. 

Early on, they are much like a Fighter in light armor, but as they level, they gain access to their special abilities.

One of those abilities is their Favored Enemies. Every few levels, Rangers can choose a specific enemy they are an expert at hunting. This could be Goblins, Orcs, Dragons, Aberrations, or almost any creature type.

As they level, they get more and more potent bonuses as well as gain the ability to choose even more favored enemy types.

As a companion to this, they also gain a favored terrain. Like their favored enemy, their favored terrain is going to be the environment in which the Ranger feels most comfortable fighting. This can be urban environments, forests, swamps, deserts, etc. 

What Role Does the Class Fill?

Rangers are almost exclusively Damage-Dealers. While their spells may offer some healing or other utility, everything about a Ranger’s kit is about dealing damage.

Where Is This Class at Its Best?

Funnily enough, you can choose! Rangers are typically best with long sight lines because they excel at using ranged weapons.


Sneaky little thieves and dashing swashbucklers, the Rogues are your assassins and swordfighters with a flair for the dramatic.

What Can the Class Do?

Rogues are prime Damage-Dealers when it comes to combat. Their most impressive ability is their Sneak Attack. If a Rogue can catch an enemy with their pants down, they can stab them right where it hurts, doing extra damage that scales with them as they go.

The Rogue also has access to Rogue Talents, which allow them to make the most of their high Dexterity and Intelligence to pull off acrobatics or apply magical-like attacks.

Rogues also have access to the largest skill list of all the classes, making them consummate “Swiss-Army Knives” for their party, as well as the ability to disarm magical traps.

What Role Does the Class Fill?

Damage-Dealer or Party Face is typically the best role for a Rogue. Their sneak attack makes them on par with even the Sorcerer or Wizard at high levels.

Some Rogues can also boost their Charisma and be the Party Face along with the Bard.

Where Is This Class at Its Best?

Rogues most often find their best place in urban environments or dungeon-scapes. A Rogue in the wild is just an edgy Ranger.

A Rogue on the high seas, though, is a Pirate!


Magical Sugar Babies? Sorcerers are arcane spellcasters who are born with an innate skill for magic. Their magical ability comes from their own personal bloodline.

What Can the Class Do?

Sorcerers have an innate understanding of arcane magics granted to them by a magical course in their bloodline. 

This leads to the Sorcerer’s ability to spontaneously cast magic rather than preparing spells beforehand. While that means they have a much more limited repertoire of arcane spells, they can cast them much more often than a Wizard, who prepares spells beforehand.

They also gain access to special bloodline powers and feats as they level, allowing them to play into and manifest the powers of whichever magical creature blessed (or cursed) them with innate magic.

What Role Does the Class Fill?

9/10 Sorcerers are going to be best at being your BOOM-Mage. That means Damage. They can rapid-fire damaging spells like crazy, becoming magical artillery at the later levels.

Sorcerers can also become a utility caster rather than Damage with spells like Knock and Discern Languages, but the Wizard is more suited for that kind of magic.

Where Is This Class at Its Best?

Sorcerers work well in any environment. Their utility is helpful anywhere magic would work.


If the Sorcerer is gifted with magic from their paranormal birth, Wizards are those who gain the ability to cast arcane magic through study and devotion to the craft.

What Can the Class Do?

Wizards are the utility casters of Pathfinder. They have a VAST repertoire of spells they can prepare for any occasion. This makes them great at making sure they have a spell for almost any situation.

Secondly, Wizards can also specialize in a School of Magic like Evocation, Divination, or Necromancy. These specializations allow them to increase the power of their spells for their school, unfortunately taking a penalty to a school that is opposing them.

What Role Does the Class Fill?

Utility caster is the best role for a Wizard. Wizards are best when they are flexing their toolbox of available spells. They can be Damage-Dealers as well, especially if they start investing in Metamagic feats.

Where Is This Class at Its Best?

Wizards are typically most at home in urban environments. The stereotype of the puny wizard attempting to survive in the wild does come from somewhere after all.

Pathfinder 2nd Edition

For the most part, Pathfinder 2e has the same core classes as Pathfinder 1e. While their flavor remains the same, there are two new core classes we should touch on here.


If the Wizard is the spellcaster who studies books until they go blind, the Alchemist is the one stuck in the laboratory concocting new brews and infusing them with powerful magics.

What Can the Class Do?

Alchemists are powerful spellcasters whose magic is almost completely tied to their potions and brews. They can infuse themselves or party members with powerful concoctions to buff them in combat as well as craft bombs and explosives.

As they level, they start gaining the ability to put chemicals together on the fly to adapt to any situation. They are often all about experimentation and pushing the envelope of what they can make.

What Role Does the Class Fill?

Alchemists are best at being in the middle of the party, where they can buff party members with their brews or toss explosions with alchemical grenades.

For most parties, you will want to focus on one or the other. Attempting to do too much might spread yourself out.

Where Is This Class at Its Best?

Alchemists are at their best when they have access to their laboratory or at least a laboratory. Urban settings with local dungeons are generally best for them.


The champion is the chosen exemplar of their deity. Emissary and Holy Warrior in one package. They replace the Paladin in Pathfinder 2e.

What Can the Class Do?

Champions are more focused on protection than the damage of the Paladin. They seek to protect their allies by offering more powerful defenses and interposing themselves between incoming damage and their allies.

At the higher levels, they are granted divine support from their deity in the form of a powerful spirit ally that blesses their equipment and their armor or manifests as a powerful warhorse.

Finally, they gain an extended expertise with their chosen weapon and armor, making them the embodiment of their deity’s Wrath.

What Role Does the Class Fill?

Champions are Tanks first and foremost. They are at their best protecting others. Their damage-dealing is limited, but it is nothing to sneeze at.

Where Is This Class at Its Best?

Champions are more universal than Paladins, at home wherever their deity is most linked to.

Keep it classy, Pathfinder!